Latest Hotel Review

Kimpton's Burnham, Chicago

Kimpton’s Hotel Burnham, Chicago (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

We tend to think of the USA as a new country filled with new buildings. However the preservation of old buildings is as much an issue on their side of the Pond as it is on the European side. Chicago recently scandalised many in the American architectural profession by pulling down a series of Gropius buildings in Chicago, a city he settled in when finally forced to flee from Nazi tyranny in Dessau.

Despite the reputation of the Bauhaus, this was not the leading movement for which Chicago was known then or now. Whilst the name of Frank Lloyd Wright resonates, some of the names of architectural heroes in the city will be a little less familiar to Europeans. Despite the furore over the Gropius buildings the City of Chicago has shown remarkable determination to conserve its historic buildings and this determination led to Kimpton taking on the reputedly first steel framed glass walled skyscraper built for conversion into a boutique hotel.

Kimpton's Burnham, Chicago
The Reliance Building, to give it its formal appellation, was started in 1890 by the architectural practice Burnham and Root. Daniel Burnham played a large part in the replanning of Chicago, a city that became famous for innovative architecture after the disastrous fire of 1871 that destroyed four square miles of the city. The fire (reputedly started when Mrs O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern) burned through a city largely made of wood, only stopping when it reached the shores of the Lake Michigan. The basement and ground floor of the Reliance Building were constructed in 1890 while the upper three stories of the building previously on the site remained suspended above on jackscrews. The addition of the remaining floors in 1894–1895 completed the building.

The building was significant because of the area of glass in the walls, made possible by the use of a steel cage construction. The original owner made lifts (elevators), given pride of place in the entrance, and it was also the first office building to boast a telephone in every office. Its glass and terracotta exterior and lightness because of the steel frame set the tone for the beginning of the skyscraper revolution. Bought and preserved by the city in 1993 the building was developed as a hotel in 1999 at a cost of $27.5 million, with Kimpton as its operator.

As a conservation project it is marked both by the work done by the city to preserve the structure and external features but also the work undertaken to replicate and restore the original interiors. Much had been destroyed but authentic elements remained on the upper floors. Terrazzo floors and marble walls and ceilings were cleaned and honed. Plaster, mahogany and glass were all restored whist the cast iron work of the lift shafts was replicated and restored to modern standards.

Kimpton's Burnham, Chicago
Externally the delicacy and grace of its exterior is equally as delightful today as it was stunning on its original completion. It had much the same impact on Chicagoans as the construction of Arne Jacobsen’s Royal, had on the citizens of Copenhagen in the 1950’s, when it was Scandinavia’s first skyscraper. The Burnham’s signature ‘Chicago’ windows fill the interior with natural light and give spectacular views down State and Washington streets. Not far from the contemporary verson, theWit and inside the Loop, the hotel is very popular and brings the Kimpton style to the city.

The hotel has a small footprint which limits the size of its popular restaurant and guests have to book for their tables to be available, especially on Sunday when it fills with local residents. With its free drinks hour for guests the public areas are busy, although clever design has fitted in a bar, an effective reception area and guest lounge as well as the restaurant. The space never feels cramped, helped by the huge picture windows to the street.

Stylish use of colour and good accent lighting lighten the spaces which feel almost Parisian in their bustle. Where theWit up the street also has a very successful bar restaurant combination, its feel is very American whilst the Kimpton succeeds in feeling closer to Continental European café culture, more cosmopolitan with its mix of dark wood, white table cloths and yellow lighting. Many floors have the original door and corridor features of the original office fit-out, carefully re-used, but space has been found for a small gym and a meeting room.

Kimpton's Burnham, Chicago
Rooms are stylish and comfortable as one would expect from Kimpton (see also Monaco). With 122 rooms including 19 suites this is not a small hotel by European standards, although the days when hoteliers would pretend they had 99 rooms rather than over a hundred so guest felt more at home, are long gone.

Bedrooms follow the normal layout, with the bathroom providing an acoustic barrier to the corridor areas. Carpet has replaced terrazzo on the floor although patterns are in keeping with the period of the property. Bedrooms all benefit from the large windows, perfect for watching Boston street life, or the views through to Lake Michigan and the Gehry auditorium defacing the park. Rooms blackout effectively and are provided with sheers for privacy.

As a European visitor I was somewhat taken aback by the unselfconscious way in which apartment dwellers in the city undressed oblivious (?) to the fact that they were in full view of neighbouring blocks. There is an intimacy in this city which is a little surprising! Either that or Chicagoans are closet exhibitionists set on making voyeurs out of maybe not so innocent tourists…

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With the restoration concentrated on floor 7-14, where authentic part remained such as intact plaster ceilings, plate glass, interior store fronts, varnished mahogany doors and trim, one would expect considerable variation over the building. In fact the whole is in harmony and this historically important building has been treated with respect both by its designers, the builders and the operator alike.

Despite their mistake with the Gropius buildings full credit must go to the policies of the City of Chicago. Without their foresight in purchasing the building and ensuring that the major external features were restored and repaired prior to its purchase for commercial use an important corner of Chicago would have been that much poorer.

Kimpton's Burnham, Chicago
We think of ourselves in Europe as being sensitive to the preservation of the past. Chicago remains the inspiration it was to Vladimir Mayakovsky, Tatlin and other artists and poets of the Russian revolution who may well have had in mind the Reliance Building when they wrote of Chicago as a ‘shining city’. This is indeed a shining example of conservation as well as being a resounding advert for Kimpton as operator.

In this exciting cityscape it stands proud as forebear of all glass walled skyscrapers. It also stands as a quality building with a long life ahead of it.

Words and Images are © Patrick Goff

Twelve Apostles, Cape Town (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means its seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere – as upside down as the constellations at night. Thus June, July and August are winter months – and of course the time when many visitors from the Northern Hemisphere arrive. It can be very cold in the Cape – indeed the 2010 World Cup has been described as one of the coldest ever, with snow fall on Table Mountain.

For 12 Apostles the variability of the Cape weather and location on the Atlantic (colder) side of the Cape Peninsula ensures that they are frequently inside a cloud mix of salt spray off the sea and mist off the mountains behind the hotel. The hotel is in a narrow band of fynbos (aromatic herbal scrub) between the 12 Apostle mountain range, after which the hotel is named, and the main coast road around the Cape. Whilst it photographs beautifully from around the bay the hotel is isolated by the main road from the shore line which at this point is high surf and large boulders – indeed the hotel carries relics on its terrace from shipwrecks on the point below the hotel.

The hotel is part of Red Carnation group who also operate the wonderful Bushmans Kloof, and whilst the service and staff are excellent (and probably the reason for those awards) the location here is not a patch on Bushmans, despite being in a reserve. Here Cape wildlife may be caught on hotel CCTV cameras at night but there are no conducted forays into the finebos, the emphasis being on the sybaritic, the quality of the bars and restaurant and an award winning Spa. During the day the proximity of the road means wildlife is rarely seen, so this is an urban hotel in a park setting.

Twelve Apostles, Cape Town

During my visit the hotel was undergoing a refurbishment. I had resisted the temptation of visiting the hotel in previous trips to Cape Town so perhaps I have only myself to blame for such a poor sense of timing which meant they had a temporary kitchen, the bistro was out of action and the builders, whilst well managed and discreet, were still evident. So, rain and builders, not a good combination for any hotel wishing to show off its fine qualities. For 12A, as it is known locally, this was not a problem as staff obviously went out of their way to make sure all guests were as unaware as possible of the changes going on. Only because I am a nosy designer was I able to poke my way into the refurbishment and get a sight of the new rooms as they developed.

The weather? Well this is Cape Town, and there are only supposed to be 60 days a year here when there is no mist or cloud because of the two oceans, Atlantic and Indian, that meet just a few miles away.

So what was the refurbishment like? If the old schemes were voluptuous ‘old English’ style of somewhat decadent luxury,belonging to another age the new are a very contemporary reinterpretation of the seaside hotel, bringing a life and vitality into the buildings the old scheme did not quite achieve.
The layout of the hotel helps with refurbishment as it is a collection of connected but independent blocks, allowing refurbishment to be phased a block at a time so guests are not involved. The new schemes bring primary colour stripes to the carpets in the public areas, with signage mixing images of the sea with a tactile quality, a kind of flotsam and jetsam feel, to the images and graphics.

Twelve Apostles, Cape Town

There is a delightful freshness about the corridor schemes that is carried through in the freshness of the bedrooms, with good use of mirror and a baseline green that pulls in the landscape. The whole has a youthful vitality but still has the luxury finishes to be expected. Sophisticated use of upholstered walls carries through into huge upholstered bedheads. The wall coverings are of fabric so there may be a question mark over their longevity, but they bring a sense of luxury sophistication to the rooms.
Whilst very different to the same designer’s schemes at Bushmans Kloof, there is a sense of humour at work in both that enlivens the design. The feel that this is a tongue in cheek rework of a seaside hotel, the stripe in the carpet so obviously visually referencing deck chair canvas (consciously or unconsciouly)makes me smile with pleasure.

Lighting is well handled and whilst most of the guests are leisure, there is a substantial desk for those who need to work, as well a comprehensively equipped business centre for those who need printers, fax machines etc.

The bar also carries through the sense of fun seen in the corridors, with its focus on Africa rather than seaside. In common with the Restaurant that sits on a floor below, it has ocean views and a terrace for smokers, although smoking is not yet outlawed in internal spaces in South Africa in the way it is now in Europe.

Twelve Apostles, Cape Town

There is a successful mix of comfort and design, with the sense of humour engaging though the banana leaf wallpaper that works here very successfully. Images are of Africa with an exceptional collection of original drawings and prints of big cats. The bar is large and comfortable as is the rest of the room, and it is here that the likeness comes closest to Bushmans Kloof, the handwriting of the designer being the same.

The whole is almost from another era in the way the barman remembers names, the easy informality yet superb service in a room that is clubbish homely and stylish all at the same time. This is the same successful blend of Africa and Europe, or modern and traditional that makes the other hotels operated by the group so successful. The restaurant is stylish and very popular. Design again is modern and comfortable, considerably expanded in warmer months by the use of the large terrace. Despite being full the area worked well and the room had the bustle and smiles, chatter and absorption in the food that characterises most succesful restaurants.

In the absence of the bistro, food service from a temporary kitchen into the restaurant and the bar areas was terrific,and the food quality excellent, approved of by another SA hotel manager with whom we dined.

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Many Cape-tonians know 12A well, using its very popular Spa, but it also has a small cinema which is used for previews and small business presentations. In addition there is a marquee style funtion suite.
Twelve Apostles is one of the pre-eminent Spas in Cape Town, winning many awards. The spa is almost carved out of the living rock under the hotel itself. There is an external pool with ocean views but there are also pools within the spa itself.

Treatment rooms are neatly designed and there are also treatment rooms in the fynbos outside, mimicking the installations at Busmans Kloof. In the summer these could be opened up to the sound of the surf beyond the road. Excavating the living rock must have been an enormous challenge. There are two entrances to the Spa, one from the hotel and the other from adjacent to the Reception entrance, with its own reception desk and lounge area. The route into the Spa from its own front reception is over an underlit glass bridge, a device that is used elsewhere to introduce more light into the grotto of the interior.

This leaves a guest coming through from the hotel slightly undecided as to where to go on arrival although staff are usually on hand to greet new arrivals. Carving out the spaces has obviously resulted in some compromises as space is very limited. The spa is stylish and the treatments are expert, but there are areas of constriction. The relaxation zone is small and the male changing facilities are almost a vestigial afterthought.

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The popularity of spa treatments with men (apparently more men then women use them in many countries now) may well have changed the user profile for many spa operators. Here male changing would struggle with more than two guests at a time. Visiting during refurbishment showed how well the hotel is being updated with a fresh stylish contemporary interior. The corridors are hugely improved, whilst the styling of the bar and restaurant is timeless. The new bedrooms will be welcomed as a change from the somewhat old fashioned, stuffy, schemes that they replace.

On a future visit of Cape Town I will have a look at their new bistro. The award winning Chef (his underchef is now chef at the Cape Grace in Cape Town)proudly showed me his new kitchens, not quite ready to be brought into service on my visit but no doubt being worked hard by the time you read this.
With a refurbished Cape Grace, the new One & Only Cape Town, and other new Cape Town hotels under way including a Missoni, competition for the 12A is increasing. Its popularity with local clientele and its views along the coast will give it an edge.

Its biggest asset though is its operator, Red Carnation. With Bushmans Kloof its country cousin now recognised globally as one of the world’s great hotels,and the reopening of the refurbished Oyster Box in Umhlanga the ability to offer the leisure traveller a number and choice of destinations will continue to help this hotel remain full.

©Words and Images Copyright Patrick Goff

Andel’s, Poland (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

It has been a pleasure in the first part of 2010 to have seen a succession of beautifully designed hotels – the Arch, the Wit and now Andel’s hotel in Łódź, Poland. Whilst Chicago’s Wit is a new build, with all the benefits that it brings, the Arch and Andel’s are both reconstructions of 19th Century properties. I use the term reconstruction deliberately because to say refurbishment would in both cases underplay the rôle that the teamwork of owner, designer and architect aligned with exceptional contractors has brought to the project. In all three cases it is evident that strong owners have kept a clear sight of the end product they wanted and have made sure the money is spent on the finishes to achieve the required standard, and the required style statement.

Some think that the quality of fine hotels, like those of Anouska Hempel that started the whole boutique craze, is down to the decorative elements. Certainly Hempel’s use in Blakes of sharp down lighting on contrasting table cloths with accent flowers was stunning in the early 1980’s, but that detail was not the key element of why Blakes worked so well for so long. The decorative was but one piece of the puzzle – the main strengths were down to careful space planning of the interiors, careful attention to detail and an eye for where spectacle and theatre can be created in the interiors.

Andels, Lodz in Poland

Andels, Lodz in Poland

In an hotel such as Łódź (and the Arch) the interior could have failed but didn’t thanks to clever planning and design. By taking risks, the team has created a stunning re-use of a building that may otherwise have fallen prey to the demolition crew and are reaping many awards for having done so. The philosophy has been about not only creating a successful hotel but also about respect for the past, for the history of the building. Throughout the historic structure, cast iron columns, brick jack arches and other features have been retained and enhanced by pieces of machinery salvaged from the dereliction that was here before.

Old structures pose particular problems for interior designers,and here it was the modular of the columns, which with bays three metres wide was quite a bit smaller that current trends, never mind the historic bedroom width of 3.66m (12 feet if you are an imperialist).

Incidentally did you know that the 3.66m/12foot width was the original width of Axminster carpet looms? Bedroom width was set so as not to create any waste on carpet installation and became a standard until the turn of the century.

The span of the bays is obviously just one of the problems in planning that an old building like this creates. Its length, the width and the lack of daylight at the heart of the building were also major headaches. Like many truly creative teams the designers here produced a dramatic design solution that produced a major part of the drama of the interiors, by simply punching through the floors of the building to create internal light wells. The difficulties of providing fire protection were resolved by automatic flame proofing barriers that drop down around the holes to ensure smoke and flame is not transmitted to the bedroom areas in event of fire. The holes’ edges are lit with colour changing LED lighting and projected images and become the dominant visual element in first(and second and third)impressions.

The designers have played with the spaces and materials, using organic forms to offset the severity of the original construction, using colour playfully too. On occasion the furniture viewed from floors above through the ‘light wells’ has the appearance of liquorice allsorts, whilst ground floor carpets echo the holes in the ceiling. Curve against straight line angle works to produce visually engaging areas that delight the eye. The amount of space for guests provides a true feeling of luxury.

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Using the lift core and restaurant areas also help to break up the length of the building. The need for corridor connection between the conference areas and main lobby on the ground floor is used to break up the large restaurant spaces to create smaller, more intimate dining areas.

The length of the building also allows a second entrance for the conference and meeting room area, with its own reception desk. Security for guestrooms is reinforced by the use of key card operation for the lifts. Guestrooms are contained between the pool and spa on the top floor and the reception, dining and bar areas on the ground floor.

Despite the problems caused by the nature of the jack arches, the bedroom uses the space well, with added length compensating for decreased width – in fact allowing spaces to work better, giving larger bathrooms that are long enough for a soaking tub and a separate walk-in shower adjacent to the separate toilet. The extra length also allows for the creation of an area away from the bed for the desk, as well as for a large armchair and seating area.

The bedroom desk is large enough to work on comfortably, suiting the orientation of the hotel which, as a large conference hotel, is targeted mainly on the business market. The separate entrance and own reception desk for the conference area however, keeps the hotel functions separate.

The design of the restaurant, which is divided into half a dozen areas of varying size supports this separation, allowing for conference delegates to eat separately from small family gatherings or individual guests. In addition, the bar end of the capacious public areas has a separate bistro type zone for those who want to meet and snack.

Bedroom floors have of course, the drama of the light wells punching through allowing views down to the floors below or up to the skylights above. The circular wall surrounding the openings can also have video imagery projected onto them. Preventing areas opening onto bedroom corridors from forming a fire chimney is difficult. Here the resolution is shutters that come down from the ceiling closing the light wells off from the means of escape. The constantly changing LED lights, set under the rim of the wall, cap around the light wells and create a continuous drama of light and colour, particularly at night.

Lighting design throughout is very well done. Bedrooms have their own drama with light thrown up into their brick arched ceilings whilst the use of large anglepois style bedhead lights mean that it is possible to read comfortably in bed whilst also moving the light if need be. Good task lighting at the desk and sockets that are in the right place also help make for an efficient work environment if one is needed. Romance is not forgotten however, with the use of historic fabric patterns from the archive of products produced by the mill on cushions and bedhead linking to the past.

In the generously sized bathrooms, which have separate walk-in showers as well as soaking tubs and separate toilet areas, a touch of romance is also brought in by the use of an under sink light. I first saw this device of a coloured light under the sink beautifully used in the Meridien Vienna where it was eau de nil in colour. Here it is a rich plum panel, preventing the design becoming too clinical.

Overall the feel of the bedroom is of spaciousness despite their narrow width. With their deeply recessed opening windows flooding them with daylight and skilful lighting at night they are exceptional for Łódź’s first four star hotel and set a standard which many supposed five stars fail to attain.

“This is, truly, a stunning hotel conversion – Blackburn, Preston why did you pull your mills down?”

The drama of the design, architectural and interior, continues on the top floor with spa and 1,300 m² fully glass-enclosed ballroom/function rooms. The interior mix of reclaimed and exposed industrial surface along with sophisticated contemporary finishes continues in the spa and treatment room. In an architectural tour de force, the old factory emergency water tank has been refurbished (hardly seems to do the process justice) and turned into a spectacular roof top swimming pool, the end of which projects many feet over the edge of the building line. With windows in the floor as well as all surrounding glass, the pool offers spectacular views over the new shopping centre, housed in other restored buildings from the life of this, one of the largest mills in Poland.

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The team of client, architect and interior designer along with very capable builders have transformed the building. Adjacent, the palace of the owner (seems hardly appropriate to call it his house) has also been transformed, restored to a Museum of high Victorian mid-European taste (for an example of an hotel in the similar style have a look at Noma).

With duplex suites, 3,100 m² of conference and function spaces, spectacular pool, spa, restaurants and 278 bedrooms the hotel brings a new dimension to hospitality in central Poland. The stunning architecture and theatrical interiors are already bringing awards from ceremonies in New York and London, as well as in Continental Europe.

Location is excellent, on the edge of the city centre adjacent to the ‘Manufactura’ shopping centre. This is, truly, a stunning hotel conversion – Blackburn, Preston why did you pull your mills down?

Design
Developers:Warimpex
Architect:the Polish-Austrian team of OP Architekten
Interior Designers: Jestico + Whiles
Operator: Vienna International

Allwords & pictures copyright Patrick Gof

TheWit, Chicago (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

Not a Trump Tower. A small building by Chicago’s standards, only 27 storeys high. Small but almost perfectly formed. Perhaps the ‘lightning streak’ of yellow down the outside is not the most successful feature I have seen on a building and the signage is definitely one sided. Location next to the El might seem odd, but as with the Marriott in London’s Docklands that nestles against the DLR, the train is not evident inside and its proximity is like a transfusion line from Chicago’s main blood stream. The life it promises is made good inside the hotel which is one of the most beautifully designed modern hotels I have seen in the US. I enjoyed Hotel 1000 in Seattle, and the Kimpton’s Alexis across the road but this one is better – its advantage being that it was purpose built. Here the building planning works a dream.

The location may not be on the so-called ‘Magnificent Mile’ which seems to me to only be magnificent if you are a shopping addict or aficionado of modern architecture. Here are the University campuses, the broadcast studio, the art school, the City Cultural Centre and library. It is a district once falling into dereliction, dominated by Macy’s and whose regeneration kicked off when the city fathers had the foresight to save the Burnham building.

A twin room at TheWit in Chicago

A twin room at TheWit in Chicago

A block away this is now the eponymous Kimpton (and shortly to be subject of one of our Reviews). With a youthful and media audience on its doorstep, theWit has been planned and designed in a way that draws this audience whilst having the design maturity to appeal to the older moneyed market that will provide the true spend and profitability longer term.

A clever balancing act has been struck between being fashionable and having a timeless quality to the design, a trick usually missed by so-called fashion hotels in my experience. This has been helped considerably by the good interior layout planning where lessons from other hotels have been learned. The bar and restaurant have a street frontage, named State Lake after a famous local café that used to be on the site, giving an historical validity to an eatery here. The speciality restaurant stair climbs from inside the street windows to the bar, pre dinner drinks being possible in a high visibility, high profile area. This is an area UK pub designers used to refer to (tongue in cheek) as a ‘Friday Night millionaire corner’ where someone could splash money around on a Friday night in high visibility as if they had more than they actually did. This is a parable for the cash-strapped years after bankers follies perhaps?

The restaurant sits on the floor above, approached either from the staircase in the bistro or from the mezzanine floor above reception. In reception a staircase leads to the Mezzanine from beside the concierge desk, allowing security to be maintained both through supervision and also because the integrity of the lift’s room card recognition system is not broken. External guests going to the nightclub bar operation on the top floor can only use the lift from bottom to top – without the key card intermediate stops at bedroom floors are not possible.

he library-like mezzanine space also provides for the informal business meetings that are such a normal part of lobby life and a queuing area for those wishing to gain access to the rooftop or waiting for seats in the Restaurant, such is the immediate popularity of this stylish hotel. One wall of the space is dominated by a mural of a phoenix, echoing the themes of the light fittings, symbolic of the rebirth of this area of Chicago. With a library feel, the height of the space is still large enough to create a grand sensation, a feel that carries through to the access and conference areas and to the spa.

Bar, restaurant area at TheWit Chicago

Bar, restaurant area at TheWit Chicago

The clever design of the restaurant plays with the space there. A chef’s table, intimate booths and a couple of classical private dining spaces create a busy and buzzing feel, yet allow privacy as well. At the top of the stairs from the bar side is a glazed private dining area and the foot of the same staircase has the lounge feeling pre-dinner drinks area. None of the spaces are overlarge and every part is used, creating a busy feel yet not feeling crammed. The bar itself does that difficult trick so often done well in America of creating a space that works well as a bar without creating an intimidating feel to the restaurant. Therefore, the restaurant remains a very comfortable and intimate area.

“library like Mezzanine space also provides for the informal business meetings that are such a normal part of lobby life”

The main restaurant offers flexible dining spaces yet it too manages to create intimate dining spaces. The show kitchen adjacent to the chef’s table enhances the intimacy of the space. Maitre’d desk faces the door from the mezzanine. With the addition of the barbeque and ‘grazing’ bar on the rooftop there is a multiplicity of eating areas done with style and offering a variety of different approaches to food – nor, unlike most US establishments, are portions intimidating. This is an hotel that has learned many of the lessons of the last 15 years in its execution, not just from interior design but other areas of the hospitality operation too.

The design surprises continue through into the bedroom areas. Each lift lobby has a small ‘library’ continuing the theme from the Mezzanine, with busts of famous thinkers, books and so forth arranged around a small bookshelf and display case.

However that is not the surprise, rather it is the sound of birdsong that fills the corridors -totally unexpected in urban Chicago. Not enough just to have birdsong either, for as dusk draws in so the sound changes to the sound of crickets and the hoot of owls. Indeed I noticed the far off ringing of church bells too, delightfully bucolic.

Standard bedrooms offer the choice of either a tub or a walk-in shower room type and all have floods of daylight from enormous picture windows filled with the skyline of Chicago. Colours are generally muted with accents being provided by touches of sharp secondary colours – turquoise or orange and lightened with strong patterns in wallpaper and carpets. Chromatically well balanced the result is visually as well as physically comfortable. The desks are generously sized enabling an easy working situation to be set up, enhanced by the free Wi-Fi.

TheWit, Chicago

Sockets are well placed and generous lighting ensures that there is never a gloomy corner to struggle with.

Desks are generously sized, enabling an easy working situation to be set up, enhanced by the free Wi-Fi.

Bathrooms are well designed with good contrasts in the materials used and excellent lighting levels. Unfortunately the wash hand basins are stupidly shallow and wide, making a wet shave laborious and a good wash difficult without using the shower.

In the suites large baths and walk-in showers complement the large vanity units. Suites also boast kitchens and dining areas, complete with microwaves, hobs and fridges, as well as wardrobes for outdoor gear separate from the wardrobe for indoor clothes. Useful coat hooks are provided, a thoughtful touch in many countries often missed in UK hotels, but which allows damp outdoor garments to be hung away from shirts dresses and so on.

Whilst theWit has echoes from many hotels nothing it does is incredibly innovative. But it is encouraging to me as a designer to see that the owner and designers have pulled together all the lessons of the last ten years advances in hotel design. Firstly in planning and layout, secondly in terms of food/hospitality operation and finally in terms of spa operation and business rooms.

Restaurant on the front to give a profile, a ‘Friday Night millionaires corner’ for the poseur to see and more importantly be seen, a screening room for the local arts and media market, plenty of facilities for local businessmen, good location, good staff and good bedrooms. On top of this nice operational and design touches such as birdsong in the corridors to give an individual personality to the hotel enabling guests to feel a loyalty and identify with the hotel.

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Too often hotel chains have innovative layouts and food operations such as Marriott’s Courtyard Paris, thought through staffing and economics, sourced and defined design solutions and then not had the mangement skills to carry through the work. Design management is rarely recognised nor reinforced as a positive management imperative.

Doubletree has produced a fine hotel, well planned, well designed and already popular. If they can manage the design and planning elements in the next hotel then maybe they will be able to create a chain of very successful properties. Clear brief, good planning and design, and quality throughout will always create winners.

TheWit is a winner.

Architecture: Jackie Koo
Interior Design: Cheryl Rowley
Restaurant Design: The Johnson Studios

All words & pictures copyright Patrick Goff

Marine, Hermanus (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

Take a rundown neglected old hotel in an underexposed seaside resort, inject a soupçon of good design and watch it flower again. The Liz McGrath collection is achieving fabled status in South Africa by using good design to raise hotels into the first rank of global competition. Their Cellars Hohenort in Constantia Cape Town has been one of the city’s leading hotels for many years, and I kept hearing from South African friends that the Marine was special, both in its location and in the quality of the interiors. So, climbing into a borrowed truck, I set out to see if it Liz McGrath’s design group could have done it again.

Hermanus is a small seaside resort on Walker Bay, off the famous garden route that runs from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. One pleasant surprise from the start was an almost total absence of the electrified barbed wire which usually guarded gated estates. Neat housing developments have almost removed the ‘camps’ that so characterise areas like Hout Bay in Cape Town. Indeed driving into the town was a little like driving into some English seaside towns – a long road lined with housing, garages,churches, supermarkets and schools turning into narrow streets lined with fishmongers, restaurants, and all the typical small souvenir shops that characterise seaside resorts the world over.

The Marine, Hermanus

Bedroom at the Marine, Hermanus

The hotel sits in a prime location on the cliff top overlooking the bay where it was built in the 1920s. It looked very cool, its white exterior reflecting sunlight set against the greyblue stormy sky on the rainy winter day I arrived. The hotel gardens are actually a public space through which meanders the cliff walk, where people strolled with their binoculars, whale spotting and taking the air. An odd note was struck by the sight of a brown mongoose running along the path and the bay was flecked with whitecaps and sprays of flume as whales vented.

Entrance to the hotel was through a classical portico immediately inside which was the popular fish restaurant, the speciality restaurant of the hotel. To the right was the bar and lounge with whale bones on the wall as a reminder that Hermanus and this area have a long history supporting the fishing and whaling fleets going back into the 19th century. Huge windows overlooked the sea, and the building has had some major remodelling to open up the internal ground floor area to the narrow terrace and the views of the bay beyond the gardens.

The protea is the national flower of South Africa and was abundantly present in the public areas, providing a dramatic display at the end of the reception corridor as a visual ‘stop’.

Check in was smilingly efficient and we were taken to our room overlooking the bay. Almost immediately we saw a set of tail flukes flash, and realised that whale watching could comfortably be done from the bedroom window.

Comfort was the key note. The refurbishment of the hotel, which has taken in the ground floor areas first, is being steadily rolled out through the bedrooms. On my visit over half had been finished.

Housekeeping is excellent, and every hotelier knows that good housekeeping can extend the time between refurbishments by keeping an older scheme looking good for longer, and that is the case here. Where the rooms are new, this quality of care is maintaining a crispness to the furnishings which helps the stylish understated schemes impress.

Rooms are good sized and have large en-suite bathrooms with walk-in showers and large soaking tubs. With the rooms at the front looking over the bay it would be easy to say these were the best rooms and indeed a number of suites are on the front of the building. The view from the front looks out into the bay, down onto the water barely 100 metres in front of the hotel, a whale main road.

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Rooms at the inland side of the central corridor spine look onto the pool and give a more resort feel to the hotel – and where there is no pool to see, frequently the view is into gardens with weavers’ nests in the trees.

Many of the rooms around the pool share a large terrace which runs around the building at first floor level and is large enough for generous tables and umbrellas to be used – when the weather suits. Even in the winter, as it was on my visit, the sun is hot and blue skies materialise with impressive speed, making the pool area attractive.

Restaurant dining also spills onto a lower pool terrace and there is a single storey spa building to the rear. On one side of the pool is a function room – a very large boardroom style area for private dining, meetings and functions. These areas all make the pool their focus.

The spa has a separate entrance which allows for a robust local business to grow. Under refurbishment on my visit, it is taking its design cues from other group spa’s and claiming the same spare elegance that drives the aesthetic in the bedrooms that have been refurbished. It is easy to see the growing family likeness with the newer bedrooms at Cellars Hohenort. Treatment rooms are quiet and restrained, lit by diffused sunlight through the blind-shaded windows giving a soft warm light.

The main restaurant which also has a terrace area onto the pool, together with its own pre-dinner drinks bar, is striking in its simple elegance, with clever lighting again echoing that used so successfully elsewhere in the group. The qualities of the menu and service set this apart from most seaside hotel experiences and its quality would embarrass many European hotels that should share this level of sophistication, but frequently fall short. Staff take pride in their skills and have an awareness of them that mixes easily with South African informality to give an impressive level of service.

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With lighting cleverly allowing the candlelight to play its part the evening ambience is in keeping, whilst the alternative speciality restaurant offering is more bistro in style. In the mornings the huge picture windows of the main restaurant change the feel, flooding it with light.

This use of light and balance with candlelight is seen in the bar and its lounge. By day a typical seaside bar area with its terrace overlooking the sea, at night it transofrms into the sophisticated heart of a sophisticated restaurant and hotel operation.

By night the lighting transforms the look of the spaces, the cleverly lit bar appearing almost to take its cues from the famous Blue Bar in the MayFair in London’s fashionable West End, unexpected in a small seaside resort.The saloon owes no part of its comfortable sophistication to elsewhere though, the open fire and strong use of imagery through to the colour of fabrics being a Liz McGrath hallmark design, with the focus very much on creating a comfortable guest environment.

“local knowledge and designers will certainly make it difficult for the chain hotels to compete”

The Liz McGrath Collection is one of the premier hotel groupings in South Africa, and have led the development of the tourism industry at a five star level for many years.

Most of the staff area recruited and trained locally, given the opportunity to rise in the company and become leaders in the South African hospitality world. Using local and in house designers is also making the group a leader in design terms, something that has been recgnised by a steady stream of awards over the years.

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Whilst major brands develop their presence in South Africa, local businesses are showing that they can compete not only at a local level, but win accolades on the global stage too as Liz McGraths Collection has done. This is true also of Red Carnation in Bushmans Kloof (despite its London Head Office the origins of the company are in South Africa)and Wilderness Hotels through their 60+ operations across the south of the continent, including Damaraland in Namibia, all of which work closely with local communities and locations.

With regional tourism growing at 8 – 10 per cent a year (Tanzania in 2008 for example grew by 17+ per cent)the local knowledge and designers will certainly make it difficult for the chain hotels to compete on quality for a share of the market. On quality they will need to look hard at their self proclaimed standards against true five star service such as that epitomised by the Marine Hermanus

Owner developer: Liz McGrath.
Design leadership rests with Mrs. McGrath, but as with other strong leaders she has an equally strong team in her interior designers, who are Dawn Dickerson and Carmel Naude of Hotcocoa in Johannesburg.

Words and Pictures ©Patrick Goff

Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

Busy. Pink. Two words sum up first impressions of Hotel Missoni. The style is indeed Missoni and the styling has been done by Rosita Missoni of the eponymous Italian fashion house. However, in hotel terms style is not content.

Key to making disparate ingredients work in hotel design is the management of the contributing parties. The Rezidor/Missoni approach is similar in some ways to that of Olga Polizzi with the Rocco Forte hotels where this formidable lady manages design very well. Rezidor’s experience of working with Cerrutti on a previous abortive effort to create a lifestyle brand will have been of assistance to its management process this time around.

As with Rocco Forte Hotels the mix is a designer of the spaces, usually a good experienced interior designer, with a stylist who in this case is Rosita Missoni.The underlying functional design has been the responsibility of the Rezidor director of design Gordon Mckinnon, who has used a designer long familiar with Rezidor hotels, Matteo Thun & Partners for interior design, and Edinburgh’s Alan Murray Architects as architects.

The first impressions are reinforced by design qualities that are knowing and recognise location. As a granite city, black, white and silver have been chosen as the underlying colour schemes for Edinburgh and I was told the sunnier colours would modify the approach in Cape Town (Note added Jan 2012: The Cape Town Missoni has failed because the banking crisis led to a collapse of the funding plan).

Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh

However, the colour here is far from grey, with broad brush strokes of colours such as pink and orange being used. These reinforce a family link with the primary colours used in Park Inn (see Liége for example).Furniture references include acknowledgement of Scottish designers particularly Rennie Macintosh, while design is reinforced by the use of Missoni apparel for the staff ‘uniforms’.

The interior designer describes this hotel as a ‘sartorial work’ and as a business hotel. For Rezidor it seems to be more a lifestyle exercise, and pitched at a five star luxury level. Rezidor says it is “a true lifestyle hotel and by no means a dedicated business hotel brand” with the “Target audience: new consumerism. People who are well travelled, independent, design aware and share the brands passions about life, style and comfort. Style without show. Comfort with style.”

I believe that for an hotel to deserve a five star rating it needs to offer both a convincing level of luxury and a level of choice for the guest. It needs to surprise and enchant both with the luxury of its rooms and the quality of the service provided, as well as the quality of the design, including design detailing. Does Missoni measure up to this definition of five star luxury, the level Rezidor maintain it is aimed at?

It seems to me that here is a dichotomy – the hotel is certainly fashionable and enchants and surprises at that level, but at a more pragmatic level doesn’t seem to work as it should. The quality is perhaps not quite at the level it should be for a five star. Here baths are only available in suites, whilst the UK standards specify that, at four star even, half bathrooms should have a tub.I believe that for five star, the guest should have the choice within their room (a view confirmed by an informal survey I conducted recently).

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In some five star hotels now the guest has his’n’her bathrooms offering these choices (see One & Only Cape Town), while some four stars have not only a walk-in shower but a whirlpool bath as the tub (see Hiltons Diagonal Mar, Barcelona), so here shower only standard bedrooms would seem to be inappropriate to the aspirations.

Although the bedroom desks are quite large, they are almost ruled out as working desks by the presence of the television on them. The style of specified TV’s may have given a high visual and audio quality, but in my view they are too small. In the large suites the size of the screen also seems smaller compared to the standard rooms because of the distance from which it is viewed. In the suite bedroom the floor mounted television is difficult to see from in bed without sitting upright.

There is a single small armchair in the standard bedroom but the operator would no doubt argue that as a lifestyle hotel it should be measured by different criteria to the criteria employed in other hotels, where two comfortable armchairs are the norm.

Unfortunately, I think lifestyle should be about having more, not less, than normal so I would expect normal minimum standards to apply with the Missoni fashion style shaping a super offer, not being used to disguise a poorer offering.

The most expressive use of the Missoni style appears to be in the break out areas for the meeting rooms, and in the bar area where functionality is not compromised and the Missoni brand adds excitement to the areas.

Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh

In bedrooms the driver appears to be the small floor footprint, and I would ask if the ultimate luxury is not space – other operators would agree with me with, for example, the smallest bedroom in a new One & Only being 63sqm. Certainly it is commonly thought that the bathroom is one of the major areas where a modern hotel can provide design drama that cannot be easily matched in the home, and providing shower only seems a retreat from the challenge.

Of course it may be that Rezidor thinks, like Intercontinental with the Indigo brand and its small 19sqm bedrooms, that having fashionable design is enough to overcome small size as a factor for guests. Bear in mind of course that all hotels seek the repeat visitor who may well take their vote elsewhere second time around, and for whom size may matter. For the discerning guest any inadequacies in design will also register as negatives.

Lighting design is interesting throughout, and while it appears to be handled well generally, in some areas it lacks finesse. Bathrooms are generally blasted with light, but in the suites there is a lack of controllability, and lighting is better thought through in the standard rooms.

Corridor lighting works well with spotlighting of each room door to the bedrooms. I was suprised there appear to be no motion sensors to help with energy saving which I find a curious ommission given the cost savings these simple devices can achieve.

The black, white and red used in the corridors is very dramatic (its use can also be seen successfully used in the competitor Andaz ‘lifestyle’ brand) but its impracticality is overloading the housekeeping team and it is already beginning to lose its sharpness as it accumulates dirty marks.

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Similarly, paint finishes in bedrooms need attention already with stains, spills and knocks all taking their toll – in some hotels with paint finishes only, built into the maintenance budget is an allowance for repainting of a certain number of rooms every month.

Seeing paint pots on housekeepers trolleys, which I have observed on other lifestyle hotels, doesn’t work, as usually to avoid a piebald finish the whole wall has to be repainted. Differentiation in price is not just to make extra profit but also to fund the increased maintenance it takes to keep a lifestyle looking stylish (I know a Bentley owner who has the car resprayed every year to remove stone chips – style perfection comes at a price).

Despite the attractiveness of the large vases design wise and as a Missoni ‘trademark’, the lack of a street presence for the hotel bar fails to engage with the trendy ‘being seen to be trendy’ market effectively – and Friday Night Millionaires need to be seen.

The Rezidor house style comes through quite strongly. The use of primary colours in chairs outside the meeting rooms echoes that in Park Inn, whilst the island reception desks are a Radisson Blu hallmark.

For the brand to work as a five star luxury lifestyle brand I think it needs more luxury and more lifestyle. Everything needs to be more luxurious, softer, and with better designed seating everywhere. I was uncomfortable with the heights of seating in the relationship to tables. This could be solved easily by the use of cushions, and would also have enabled more of the signature Missoni fabrics to be used. It would also add more luxury whilst making banquette seating more functionally effective.

With an hotel that is not geared for the business traveller (not even a high fashion stylish business traveller) the reliance must be placed on Missoni becoming the hotel of choice for affluent leisure travellers of all age groups. Underlying my criticism is the disappointment that the basic five star standards for the operational installation and room layouts is failing to support the stylish Missoni interiors. The colour and pattern is generally strikingly new and admirable but if the basic operational criteria is wrong then the result will disappoint.

Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh

The hotel is in a sharp piece of contemporary architecture that stands apart from its neighbours stylistically, but which has a presence and a personality lacking in many hotels. For the brand to succeed in the increasingly competitive and well designed lifestyle market, Rezidor need to ensure their design management processes can also deliver a five star hotel experience to back up the promise of the building and the Missoni brand.

The tall pots in reception areas are spectacular and are a device that could be repeated elsewhere. If entrance is also intended from the courtyard too (accessed via the alley from the Royal Mile) then it needs more of a ‘come on’ and similar pots on the terrace would help create a presence here.

Whilst the position of the bar is good, the ‘W’s, that set the trend for chain lifestyle branding, used the street windows to allow ‘Friday night millionaires’ to show off in the window. From the outside at night the pots are coloured by the yellow sodium street lights and some corrective lighting from the inside would add considerably to the drama at street level.


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Words and images ©Patrick Goff
Olive Grove Windhoek

Olive Grove, Namibia (Patrick Goff)

1000 667 Daniel Fountain

Concrete is the last material I expect to see as part of the finishes in an hotel room. Oh I know that poured concrete is a modern construction material. I have worked on hotels where it has been a source of problems, seen it used in the construction of bathroom pods, so I’m familiar with its great qualities. But I have never seen it used as a polished finished material, where the construction kind of extrudes itself into making the bathtub, bedhead, vanity unit.

Where the material also ingratiates itself as your floor and wall finishes, polished and with inset subtle pieces of coloured glass. Where white paint, white linen and white towels provide an almost ascetic aesthetic against which drama is provided by the play of light from African sun by day and metal lanterns at night.

Bedroom in concrete Olive Grove Namibia 001

In this quiet corner of Windhoek, Namibia’s small town capital, is the misnamed Guesthouse of the Olive Grove. Namibia is the country with almost the lowest population density in the world at roughly two people to every square mile, so creating an oasis in this town is unnecessary when there is so much country side to retreat to. So here we have a sophisticated urban boutique bridging the gap between western sophistication and wilderness that is the attraction in this country. The voter population of 1.18 million people is estimated to have over 110,000 of them working in the hospitality industry. As the country recovers from a brutal war of independence the government leads the conservation work backed by tremendous private effort. Effort that is epitomised not by large institutions but by individual such as the operators of this, one of Windhoek’s premier boutiques.

I’d love to have seen more of Windhoek. The remnants of the colonial occupiers in the form of the German architecture, churches and even a castle are apparently remarkable. But this was only a transit point on the way to Review the lodges at Little Kulala, Damaraland and finally Ongava in this beautiful country. The five hour delay endured through Air Namibia robbed me of any time for tourism and my meetings, but I was fortunate that the interim accommodation in the form of this supposed guesthouse that is the Olive Grove set me in one of those places where one doesn’t mind getting stuck for a while.

I say supposed guesthouse because this is so much more than just another guesthouse or B&B. There may be just a dozen rooms and three or four suites but they have been well planned and well thought through. The relaxation is encouraged, and although close to the centre of Windhoek the view from the terrace is over the countryside surrounding the town, its ridges and hills practically bare of settlement.

As a transition from the bustle of Johannesburg or Cape Town, an adjustment from the frenetic pace of a European or American City, then a pause here is worthwhile before venturing to the Wilderness.

The silence at night is almost as intense as the darkness that reveals the African night sky. Its dark cobalt is shot through with so many stars that their number is infinite. There are so so many that they in themselves are a wonder that we have lost in the light pollution of our great cities. A pause in travel gives time to slow down, to relearn the art of watching and listening.

“terraces that look out across the newly planted 200 tree olive grove.”

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Rooms are generously sized and have terraces that are shaded by horizontal blinds on runners that provide shade from the sun, terraces that look out across the newly planted 200 tree olive grove, and provide a perfect spot for reading or writing. There is a small plunge pool, for cooling off in the summer (our winter months – this is the Southern hemisphere) when it can get oppressively hot, surrounded by loungers to which smiling staff bring cold drinks.

Lingering breakfasts are taken on a terrace where canvas curtains keep out the morning chill from a space heated by those ludicrous steel umbrella heaters that seem so pollutingly unnecessary in Europe but are so worthwhile here. Here too is the lounge where a drink can be taken before dinner, although the small kitchen makes for a small menu. True to the guesthouse roots the hotels will provide a taxi service to local restaurants, which include the Namibian Institute of Culinary Excellence, funded by a German safari outfit to train Namibians in the culinary arts.

Learn the Namibians are too, not just the culinary arts but hosting and design. As experience grows so too does the ambition of Namibians working in our industry – not just the housekeeper who proudly asserted her intention of starting her own Guesthouse, but the owners who’s interior design touch grows more assured as they work on their building more. The new suite created overlooking their newly planted 200 tree Olive Grove is evidence of this growing confidence.

A step up from the standard rooms, this uses more contemporary pieces to create a set of spaces that are stylish and comparable with suites anywhere. The space is large and rooms flow from entrance to lounge to bedroom through to bathroom and finally to the sun trap outside areas. With their outside cooling shower these very private areas are quiet and protected with the suite almost self contained from the hotel.

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The entrance is set back off the plunge pool terrace, with dustily coloured fountain trickling water alongside. Entering the cool beyond the lobby decants into a lounge with floor to ceiling picture windows. The windows look onto the terrace and over a small private plunge pool, and have views overlooking the olives. The space is separated from the bedroom by the large flat screen TV and cupboard unit. Internal finishes are again the polished concrete of the rest of the building, with subtle variations on the colouring. These finishes are complemented by the natural materials used in the furnishings.

The architecture and interior design I saw throughout Namibia used flowing forms where the very structures appeared to grow organically. Whilst breeze block construction ordered straight lines the thatch and tree trunk construction style insinuated itself in this urban environment with roofs and canopies frequently flowing following organic forms. With the nature of the climate dictating a flow between interior and exterior unfamiliar to those from northern Europe, space exploited natural light, ventilation and the use of water and plants.

In art history I was taught there were early cultures in Africa that were totally based on the circle, where the square was not used.Certainly design seems more organic. Maybe too the closeness to nature everyone must be conscious of in Namibia reinforces the organic and natural content of design styles here. To use a much abused set of terms, they appear much more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Perhaps there is much to learn from here.


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Words and Pictures ©Patrick Goff

Premier Inn, Woking (Patrick Goff)

1000 666 Daniel Fountain

The British brewing industry has, in general, been a pretty miserable business management failure. However, two of the largest of the big brewers have been very successful in moving their business away from beers and pubs into hospitality. The famous Manet painting ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’, depicting the Bass triangle on bottles of Bass Pale Ale, perhaps hints that Bass was the first to make the transition, culminating with its purchase of Holiday Inn and growing successfully into the world’s largest hotel operator, InterContinental Hotels Group.

Whitbread was a famous brewing name and for many years grew by acquiring (and pledging to keep) many idiosyncratic UK brewers such as the Boddington’s brewery in Manchester. However at some point the management realised that this romantic real ale traditionalist view of the industry was not going to work profitably in the face of the continuous decline in beer drinking in the UK. Eventually the group followed Bass in moving its mainstream business out of brewing and into the broader realm of Hospitality. Now Whitbread has a spread of half a dozen brands, including the UK’s largest budget chain, Premier Inn, with a continuous programme of expansion in the UK, Ireland, and now Dubai and India.

 

Premier Inn Woking

Premier Inn Woking

The expansion of the group is underpinned by the maintenance of profitability in the budget sector during the 2009 recession with underlying profits falling only around three per cent. Whilst there has been a great deal of publicity for the fight between Travelodge and Premier for the title of Britain’s leading budget chain, it perhaps a little unfair to see Travelodge as the primary competitor for the Whitbread chain. More appropriately it might be better to consider Premier Inn as a competitor for Campanile or even possibly Holiday Inn, as unlike Travelodge and other budget operators such as Ibis orEtap, Premier offers a full food service using its associated restaurant operations such as Beefeater or one of the other of its six brands in the food sector.

Premier Inn Woking is built at the side of Woking canal in a quiet location. Woking in Surrey is a surprising town growing from a market garden centre to today’s hi-tech home to McLaren and Directory company Wandsworth. The growth of the town was spurred first by the canal then by the railways and today it has a thriving local business community as well as strong commuter links into London. The architecture of the hotel is deliberately evocative of canal side warehousing with a little of farm buildings influence, all built around a previously existing canal side pub restaurant.

Those who are not familiar with Whitbread eateries may be surprised at the change being wrought in the food operation. Many hotels could learn good lessons from the healthy breakfast options, and the healthy nature of much of the offerings in the remaining meals, despite the reputation of these operations for old fashioned English pub catering. English food has changed greatly over the last 15 years and Whitbread has moved with the tide whilst keeping traditional. The standard English breakfast may still be the main offering, but not only is the healthy alternative available, but it is also given at a very competitive price. Like Travelodge, which grew out of its affinity with Little Chef and who’s menus have been so publicly reworked recently, Premier Inn took path of adding bedrooms where they had an existing pub food outlet, becoming a new twist to the tradition of the English Inn and taking many design cues from its origins.

The food operation therefore may well be pub eatery based, but the majority of the meats are char grilled, one of the healthiest ways to prepare meat. The design also remains steadfastly linked to traditional pub design, with dark timbers, hard floors and all the other touches that make pub dining the English equivalent to the Italian trattoria in its implementation of traditional folk design. It is from these roots that traditions in hotel keeping have grown. Whether from the German Gasthaus, French Pension, or English Inn the image of ‘mine host’ in an apron greeting a traveller to his inn is the hallmark of expectation for a guest.

Premier Inn Woking rooms

Rooms at the Premier Inn, Woking

Measured against this image, the Premier Inn did not fail. A smiling and friendly greeting conformed to the expectation – an expectation more superior hotels fail to meet (as Olga Polizzi once observed to me, “if you can’t smile at the guest, why work in hospitality?”) Reception is minimalist but functions effectively. The explanations of the food operation, the offer of a daily paper, were clear, simple and offered with enthusiasm. When pressed, the staff across the whole operation were fulsome in their praise of Whitbread as an employer, and the hotel operation was testimony to the effectiveness of the brand management and training.

Whitbread offer a clear money back guarantee if the guest doesn’t get a comfortable clean room and a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately here the new extension, whilst offering new design rooms, has been located badly alongside the car park entrance to the busy restaurant. The result is noise complaints from rooms overlooking the exit from the car park. There must be a good reason why the architect did not position the building nearer to the canal, which despite the busy road on the other side, would probably have been a quieter solution. However the rooms in the main hotel block were very quiet, overlooking a school playing field complex and abutting the canal – now a strip of nature that makes the walk into Woking centre a delightful expedition.

The corporate colours of violet and yellow are handled with subtlety, and the rooms are fitted out to the standard pattern, with en-suite bathrooms. The new design has the current fashion for large bedhead and LED bedhead lights. The work desk is large and there is free Wifi with simple connection and the desk has the sockets sensibly placed for easy access. Design is unremarkable, simple but effective. Lighting is adequate, as is the bathroom, if slightly dull.
If the competition is considered to come from Holiday Inn then the price differential , with Premier competing on price with Travelodge, is essential as the Holiday Inn interiors are far superior. Here the offering is comparable to the Travelodge chain and there is surely potential here for the rooms to be taken slightly more upmarket, as this position would be supported by the in-house food operation so missing from most Travelodges (although the revamped Little Chef may offer the competition).
If Campanile achieve their early target of 60 outlets of the quality we have reviewed in Swindon and Northampton, then both of these UK budget leaders could face a severe challenge from Barry Sternlicht’s revival of the French brand.

Premier Inn Woking

Bar area at the Premier Inn, Woking

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© Words and images by Patrick Goff

Casegoods, reception desk, meeting room furniture etc. by AMS Group official supplier to all UK Premier Inns

Scottish Highlander, Scotland

Scottish Highlander (Huw Kidwell, Tracey Kifford)

1000 750 Daniel Fountain

To look into the increasing popularity of small and personal luxury cruises in 2009 we headed to Scotland to sample a cruise along the Great Glen, from Inverness towards Fort William. The route took us through the eerie blackness of Loch Ness, along the rivers Ness, Spean and Lochy and the 29-lock Caledonian Canal on the luxury barge the ‘Scottish Highlander’.

The scenery in this area of Scotland is stunning and visits to historic sites such as Glencoe, Cawdor Castle (setting for Macbeth) and Ben Nevis were all included as part of the cruise. During the week long cruise the barge slowly traversed the Caledonian Canal stopping at Loch Ness, Fort Augustus, Laggan, Gairlochy and Fort William. At each of the stops a tour of the nearest attractions was arranged in conjunction with passenger preferences and the weather. The barge carries six mountain bikes onboard for guest use as well as a Zodiac-type boat for excursions, fishing tackle for fly-fishing opportunities and binoculars for wildlife study and bird-watching (golf was also possible).

The Scottish Highlander is a 200 tonne Luxe motor barge that was originally built in 1931 in Holland. The barge was renovated in 1991for use as a hotel cruiser and transferred to Inverness, Scotland (she began to carry passengers in April 1993). In 1999 the barge was acquired by European Waterways and again refurbished in 2006 to a luxury standard, rechristened as the Scottish Highlander and began a career as a luxury cruise barge. She is 117ft long with a beam of 16.5ft, a height of 11.5ft and a draft of 4.6ft and can carry eight passengers in three double/twin staterooms (115ft²) and one suite (150ft²) situated below deck. The upper deck has a forward sitting area for passenger use, while the aft area is occupied by crew cabins, the wheelhouse and the galley.

The barge operates with a crew of four including the captain, a chef, a tour guide and the front of house hostess with a leisurely cruising speed of 4 knots and a maximum speed of 10 knots. The social centre of the Scottish Highlander for the passengers is the main saloon which has a bar and the galley at one end with a polished walnut dining table set for eight (wooden chairs upholstered in blue velveteen). The other end of the saloon has red leather chesterfield style club chairs and sofas along with dark wood occasional tables, reproduction brass lamps, fresh flowers and coffee table. The salon has large windows all around providing natural lighting during the day and seven brass/frosted glass wall light fixtures for evening lighting.

Scottish Highlander, Scotland
The walls and ceiling of the salon are panelled in a light sapele, with a mahogany dado rail and coving. They are adorned with nautical displays as well as black and white prints of the Caledonian Canal and marine charts. One wall also had the great Scottish cliché — a print of ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ by Landseer. The floor is covered in a blue and green tartan plaid carpet but there is also light yew wooden flooring in some areas. The room always has several current newspapers laid out for guest perusal each day and a small library for guest use (books and CDs) along with some board games and a stereo system.

Scottish Highlander, Scotland
At the galley end of the salon a sideboard is laid with Scottish tea time treats and a selection of fruit. The bar is included in the price as well as unlimited fresh tea and coffee throughout the day with a coffee machine on standby as well as a full size water cooler. Guests arriving are met with a champagne reception and high tea is served every day accompanied with freshly baked scones and sandwiches made from homemade bread The food onboard was superbly prepared (using fresh Scottish produce) and accompanied by an excellent selection of wine and single malt whiskys.

The three double cabins were decorated to a high standard with a similar mahogany and sapele panelling effect to the saloon. Beds were made up in red/blue plaid tartan duvets and blankets. The cabins gave ample space for conversion from two singles to a double bed and there was plenty of closet space, with storage drawers under the beds as well. There were two portholes one of which could be opened. The dark mahogany bedside tables were equipped with reading lamps and gave a good spot to rest a glass of water and a book in the night. Fresh towels were provided each day along with mineral water, shortbread and miniature chocolates. Cabin walls were decorated with typical ‘knots and yachts’ pictures.

The bathroom facilities contained a shower, corner fitting white toilet cistern and were finished to an excellent standard. Antique style brass taps on the wash hand basin, cream ceramic tiles on the walls and brass fittings were functional and comfortable. In addition the bathroom had shelves for complimentary toiletries and a good sized mirror. The three cabins and the larger suite were named after famous Scottish clans with the Fraser, Macpherson,Cameron (suite) and Mackintosh coats of arms on each door along with the family tartan and motto.

This was a well appointed and comfortable barge with something for everyone, incredible food and a real compliment to Scotland showing just how much there is to see and do in that wonderful country.

Words and pictures by Huw Kidwell and Tracey Kifford

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